While the NASCAR Xfinity Series still has five races remaining to set its 2020 12-driver Playoff field, judging by the intensity of recent races, there is already a concerted effort to establish championship favorites. And with the highly-competitive nature of this season, in particular, there may well be some new names among the title eligible before that first Playoff race on Sept. 26 in Las Vegas.
Friday night’s WAWA 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) sets up as a legitimate championship wildcard race. The last three Daytona Xfinity Series race winners – Noah Gragson, Ross Chastain and Michael Annett – are all currently Playoff eligible either by wins (Gragson) or points (Chastain and Annett).
The tightest battle among those contending for a points position into the Playoffs is that 12th and final spot currently held by Brandon Brown. He holds a 31-point edge on Jeremy Clements and a 58-point advantage on Myatt Snider.
This race has an interesting history – albeit its previous position on the schedule was a steamy July night held on the annual Independence Day Weekend NASCAR Cup Series race. Chevrolet drivers have won the last six Daytona Xfinity Series races. And three of the last four winners also led the most race laps. Gragson’s overtime win in February is the exception in that time.
Among those three currently vying for that 12th and final Playoff points transfer position, Brown boasts a pair of top-10 finishes in five starts with a career-best sixth place in last summer’s race answered with a seventh place this February. Clements has the most starts among the trio, but has scored only two top-10s in those 20 races. His best ever – eighth place – came in this race last year. Snider has only one start, winning the pole position in February’s season-opener but finishing 33rd after a mid-race accident.
Defending race winner Chastain is the highest ranked driver (eighth) among the present championship field still looking for their first victory of 2020. The Florida native has six top-10 finishes in 12 starts at Daytona. But his best work has come most recently. He scored the win last July – the Kaulig organization’s first – and has led 72 of his career total 75 laps at the track in the last three races there. He was 22nd in February.
“This was the site of our first victory (at Daytona), both for myself and in the team’s history last year,” Chastain said. “I’m looking forward to it again.
“Kaulig Racing always brings super-fast speedway cars. It’s incredible. It’s unlike anything that many of the drivers, including myself, have ever driven. We’re able to be really aggressive and we’re also able to work together as you saw at Talladega (Superspeedway), which is a similar package. It took all three of the Kaulig Racing cars to work together to push Justin Haley to the win (at Talladega). We want to do the same thing.”
Among the championship leaders, Chase Briscoe – who picked up his series-best sixth win at Dover International Speedway two weeks ago – earned his best Daytona finish in February, finishing fifth. Austin Cindric, who earned his fifth win of the season at the Daytona road course two weeks ago and leads the championship by 62 points over Briscoe, has two top-10s in five Daytona oval starts. His best work in the summer race is fourth. He crashed in the 2020 Daytona season opener.
Gragson’s win in February is his only top-10 finish in three Daytona Xfinity starts. Jeb Burton actually led the most laps (26) in the season opener but was involved in an accident up front at the end of the race.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!